I walk past the cashier, feeling his malicious glance pierce the back of my neck. As I hand my friend Munchy a pack of Pot Noodles, an accusative, "are you planning to pay for that?" gets shot at us.
I have only been treated with such disdain and contemptible suspicion twice in my life; both
times were in the last week. What was different about these last seven days, you may ask?
Nothing really. Oh, except that the afore-mentioned Munchy happens to be homeless!
We walk past them everyday, often avoiding their gazes. We pretend as if they live in a world isolated from ours. We watch those lads who may have had a bit too much to drink, humiliate these people with obnoxious jokes, but we deem it none of our business and quicken the pace of our walks home. We distance ourselves from their unhygienic, diseased vicinities and move swiftly on. We comfort ourselves knowing that we couldn't do anything about their condition even if we tried; our generous donations will likely be splurged on drugs and alcohol, which will make their lives even worse. On our best days, we toss a couple of quid in their coffee cups and relish in this saintly act for the rest of our day.
In the last week, I've spent most of my evenings sitting down and speaking to these 'street
dwellers', a large chunk of who have not felt the comfort of a home in many years. I am
certain that I share more with these men and women than the politicians I see on TV
desperately battling each other to snag a couple of votes. Behind a lifetime of hardship and
problems, these are beautiful people who mightn't have been very different from you or me at points in their lives; yet fate has dealt them a deck, which has rendered them voiceless and marginalised in society (often in their own country of birth!).
Last year, 111,960 households applied to their local authorities for homeless assistance in
England alone. On any one night, 2,714 people will have been sleeping on the cold hard
streets, up 55% since 2010. The 'housing crisis' is one that no party has been able to
execute an effective solution to. Neither Miliband nor Cameron has made a commitment to
definitely investing in more social housing. Although all three major party manifestos speak about housing, "all three are weaker on their commitment to affordable housing...which is vital if we want to help more people on lower incomes," according to Gavin Smart, of the Chartered Institute of Housing.
What is more worrying though is the lack of rhetoric behind the root causes of homelessness. Homelessness is not about homes, it's about people! Surely I can't be the only one who thinks it is shameful that one of the richest countries in the world has thousands of citizens who can't even remember what it feels like to live in a house! How are we dealing with employability for those with a lack of qualifications, tackling mental health issues, providing social support for the most vulnerable, combatting youth poverty, or dealing with policies that have led to a direct increase in homelessness such as sanctions, the bedroom tax, or housing benefit cuts?
"Whether it is the plans to remove young people's housing benefit or right-to-buy proposals
that will worsen the housing crisis, some suggestions (of manifesto policies) look set to
increase homelessness," remarked Matt Downie of Crisis.
I will never forget the look on Munchy's face as he lit up, sipping on his Pot Noodles with
boiling water from a local café. "This is the proper authentic Chinese stuff right here," he
exclaimed in his neat Scottish accent. This is the same Munchy who was almost brought to
tears chatting about a local organisation that took him to watch his first West Ham game in
years. These are real people. Tories, Labour, Lib dems, I don't care anymore...I'll vote for whoever can #GetMunchyOffTheStreets